Conditions of Women
Women in Lebanon have taken an active role in education and the economy, but continue to be largely excluded from political institutions. Only in November 2004, for the first time in Lebanon's history, the Lebanese cabinet included two women Mrs. Layla Al-Solh was appointed as minister of industry, and Mrs. Wafa Hamza as minister of state. However, that government resigned on 28 February, two weeks after the assassination of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The two females were not re-appointed in the new Lebanese cabinet formed on 27 April, 2005. Only three members of the 128-seat parliament are women, and the 78 women elected as municipal council members in May/June 1998 constituted only one per cent of the total. The Lebanese government has established a National Authority on Women’s Issues to improve the status of women. This Authority has created a National Action Plan for Women and a National Committee for Women’s Affairs to oversee the plan’s implementation. The Plan seeks to empower women and challenge social discrimination through a variety of projects, including private and micro-credit development for poor women. The Committee has also implemented a national education program to teach women about their rights and to provide new social images of women in public life.
Several women’s organizations have emerged in Lebanon to address gender issues. The Lebanese Association for Combating Violence Against Women was established in 1994 to combat sexual violence. The government has failed to create facilities to help the victims of domestic violence. Other Lebanese women’s groups include the Committee for the Political Rights of Women, the Lebanese Women’ Council, the Lebanese Association of Women Lawyers, and the Council for Lebanese Women’s Organizations that acts as a coordinating body between different groups.
Most women receive a good education in Lebanon. Adult female illiteracy has fallen from 37% in 1980 to 19.7% in 2000. lliteracy among young females is just 8%. Half of all university students are women. Women have been able to utilize this training to gain an edge over less educated men in the workforce.
Lebanese women comprise 29% of the workforce. Working women tend to be more educated than their male counterparts, as education tends to be a prerequisite for women entering the labor force. Almost a quarter (24.6%) of employed women work in the professional sector. Women have found opportunities in government, medicine, the law, academia, the arts, and business. Unfortunately, few women have achieved senior positions in their field. For instance, 90% of bank employees are women, but there are no female bank directors in the nation. Most women (81%) are employed in the service sector, with 14% in industry and 4% in agriculture.
Law of Personal Status
Some areas of women’s personal status in Lebanon are dictated by a common civil code. This code guarantees that women can own businesses and that their testimony will be given equal weight to men’s in court. But much of a woman’s personal status is dictated by her religious affiliation. Lebanon recognizes 19 different groups that are each accorded their own religious law. Some women’s groups have called for reform to create a universal civil marriage that would bring all marriages under a common code. This proposal has been sharply resisted by the parliament, which has blocked it from consideration.
The National Committee for Lebanese Women's Affairs, a governmental committee, states that it is committed to achieving full equality between men and women. It aims to ensure the human rights of women, to augment women’s access to safe and sustainable means of living, and to increase women’s participation in the government and decision making. The government had a National Action Plan between 1997-2000 for empowering and improving the status of women in the country.
Women's rights organizations played the major role in the incitement to ratify the CEDAW convention and the follow up of its enforcement. NGOs have made voluntary, continuous and committed efforts to abolish discrimination against women and to expand awareness among the population. NGOs work towards protecting, rehabilitating and assisting Lebanese women. More than three thousand NGOs are working at the present time in Lebanon. Some are directly concerned with women's issues, while others include some programs about women in their work.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
In March 1993, Lebanon ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women with reservations as to conflicts with religious law.